26 Aug

'Scott Morrison targets post-Brexit trade deal with Boris Johnson' Simon Benson, The Australian

Australia is set to be the first ­country to strike a comprehensive post-Brexit free-trade deal with Britain, as Scott Morrison looks to accelerate negotiations when he meets new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the first time ­tomorrow on the sidelines of the G7 leaders meeting in France.

Mr Morrison will arrive in the French coastal resort town of ­Biarritz tonight accompanied by his wife Jenny as the first Australian prime minister to be invited to ­attend a meeting of the G7, which comprises the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan.

He told The Weekend Australian ahead of the summit that it was a historic moment for Australia as a recognised leading power in the Indo-Pacific providing critical input on the increasing risk of conflict in the region and how to manage the relationship with China.

In the first face-to-face meeting with his British counterpart since both took over their roles, Mr Morrison will push to lock in a free-trade agreement post-Brexit with Britain — the second-largest source of foreign investment into Australia at almost $600 billion. Two-way trade already stands at $29bn.

Mr Morrison will again meet US President Donald Trump, with the summit taking place amid mounting trade tensions and strategic posturing between the US and China which last night announced tariff hikes on $US75bn ($111bn) of US products in retaliation for Mr Trump’s planned increases. The tariffs of 10 per cent and 5 per cent take effect on two batches of goods on September 1 and December 15, the official Xinhua News Agency said. .

Talks will also revolve around efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf. Australia this week became the third country after Britain and Bahrain to join the US in committing military ­assets to protect commercial shipping from Iranian-backed aggression in the Strait of Hormuz.

Mr Morrison said it was a key development in the nation’s evolution as a middle power to have a seat at the G7.

“We are the biggest aid provider and defence partner in the southwest Pacific,” Mr Morrison told The Weekend Australian.

“We have a very sophisticated view about how these issues need to be managed … It’s about ­relationships that are framed around each country’s sovereignty and independence.

“It is a very complex region … There are a lot of pressures … There are insights we have that I’m looking to share.”

The Prime Minister will also push the world’s most advanced economies to get tougher on the global tech giants after likening their rise to the US railway and oil trusts of the 19th century, which were taken on by president Theodore Roosevelt and eventually broken up to prevent the monopolisation of industrial capital.

Mr Morrison is expected to ­address the summit on the ­Australia-led crackdown on ­terrorism and extremist violence on the internet.

The global economic outlook, amid further escalation in the US-China trade conflict, will also take centre stage. The combined economic might of the G7 represents almost 60 per cent of the world’s wealth.

Mr Morrison, who was invited to attend by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, as one of four observer nations alongside India, South Africa and Chile, will hold bilateral talks with Mr Macron, Mr Johnson and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Separate meetings are likely with other leaders.

Mr Macron was the first world leader to send Mr Morrison a text message following his election victory on May 18.

Mr Morrison said he would continue discussions with Mr Macron on Australia-France co-operation in the Pacific through the deepening of development aid partnerships and the strengthening of a renewed strategic alliance in the region as a counter balance to China’s expanding footprint.

“They do see themselves as being one of the countries that has a long-standing position in the ­Pacific,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Macron has also invited the Prime Minister to join formal talks on a special session on the ocean environment, following Mr Morrison’s focus on plastics and marine pollution.

The G7 was formed in the 1970s from the seven most advanced economies in the world and followed the 1973 oil crisis. It became the G8 when former British prime minister Tony Blair and US president Bill Clinton invited Russia to join in 1998.

Russia was expelled in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea.

Mr Trump this week flagged ­allowing Russia back in with support from France.

Having led the agenda on technology and terrorism at the G20 summit in June, Mr Morrison has been invited to address the G7 summit on Australia’s plan to force tech companies to act against live streaming of strong ­violence in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Mr Macron has adopted Mr Morrison’s push and has elevated it to a key priority of this weekend’s meeting.

However, there are differences between Australia and Europe on the tax treatment of tech giants, such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, which Mr Morrison has been pursuing.

He told The Weekend Australian that they had drawn parallels with the “trust busters” at the turn of the 20th century. “People have made comparisons with the big trusts of the 1900s and Teddy Roosevelt,” he said. “What we are seeing is a profound transformation of the global economy driven by digital technologies. These things are happening, they are real and we must see them in a neutral way. We have to understand it and adjust.

“We don’t have to see it as a ­nefarious objective … Things are changing and things are ­disrupting.”

by Simon Benson, The Australian

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